Asset Management

Computer labs in schools - do they still matter?

Does the traditional computer lab in schools still matter? Mobile devices are coming to change the way schools connect students to new technologies.

September 25, 2023

For decades, academic institutions have showcased the popular computer lab in schools as an indispensable resource fostering students' education and learning. We are talking about two whole generations of students who learned to use computers in these dedicated and dynamic workspaces. However, times are changing. Desktops are out, Chromebooks, iPads, and laptops are in.

A flashback to computer labs in schools

Computer labs provided access to technology that the regular student couldn't afford and sometimes couldn't access at home. What's more, if you look at these labs' past, you can see directly into the evolution of computers. It all started with donated Apple I computers back in the 70s, to DOS-based machines and Apple II's reign during the 80s, and the Windows-dominated 90s.

The 1980s version of a computer lab, with much smaller devices

In the early days, the lab simply offered access to computers, scanners, and printers for completing projects and learning basic coding skills. The labs featured scanners and graphic design software, as well as a gateway to the powerful research resource the World Wide Web meant.

Students gained great experience with new technologies and interactive materials. These not only prepared them for technical careers but also for the digital future that we're living in. Moreover, these computer labs became a social gathering place where students gathered to complete assignments, and it quickly became a cultural element of many universities.

The rise of mobile devices in schools

Today, however, we're reaching the end of the computer lab era. This is partly due to the rise of mobile devices and their affordability. Students carry more computing power in their pockets and wrists than any computer lab back in the 80s combined! What's more, these devices are becoming cheaper and extremely personalized.

Most students own tablets at home and easily interact with them.

As a result, computer lab in schools has given way to the BYOD (bring your own device) trend and the inclusion of non-stationary computers at schools. Universities expect every student to have a laptop today, and many high schools are giving devices to newcomers. Even elementary schools now have tablets as a standard teaching tool in their classrooms.

Schools are planning to invest more money in tech education in the years to come, as technology has become a key player worldwide. It’s hard to keep track of technological spending across the country. However, in 2019, it was estimated that U.S. K-12 schools spent between $21 and $41 billion on technology per year. Given the remote nature of the pandemic, experts say that spending has likely exceeded $50 billion in the years since. 

Remote and hybrid learning in schools

Schools worldwide faced significant changes in their teaching methods with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic started, the education world was put “on hold.” Teachers and students worldwide were told to go home and wait for additional information.

Even now, over a year later, students haven’t returned to the classroom full-time. Instead, we are here to witness different variations of schooling, including remote and hybrid learning.

When the teacher and students are separated by time or difference, it comes to remote learning. It’s the opposite of the traditional classroom setting since it lacks in-person communication. In turn, hybrid learning combines the two, online activities and conventional classroom teaching.

With the rise in online learning, developers released many free learning tools and software for both students and teachers. In other words, technology has assumed an even more significant role in education due to the global pandemic.

RingCentral Research claims the COVID crisis will radically transform the higher education experience for students. According to a survey executed by CITE Research, 67% of faculty believe online learning is effective for their students. However, they point out the students are far less engaged than in the traditional classroom setting.

Furthermore, 85% of faculty and 81% of students like the flexibility of digital learning for students. The question is, will education ever return to what it was? And will students ever return to the classic computer lab in schools?

Well, there are serious doubts about these questions since 83% of students and 89% of faculty believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on higher education students.

Conditions continue to unfold so that remote and hybrid learning have become longer-term solutions. Still, no standard template determines how to educate students – remotely, using a hybrid model, or having them come back to the classroom. Either way, technology will be at the center of education, whether in computer labs or at home.

Virtual labs and laptop lockers

Nowadays, there are more advanced ways of including devices in schools. Some universities are even creating virtual labs, where users can install software from the lab server onto their own laptops or log into virtual machines that provide all the tools they will need for class. .

In the case of schools with computer labs, the mobile alternatives are laptop lockers and mobile computing carts. These provide laptops tailored to each classroom's needs. Students simply pick up a device when class starts and log into their personalized cloud access.

The social scene has shifted out of the computer lab in schools and into the Internet Café, with wireless and cellular access everywhere. Students are no longer bound to a location but can do their work anywhere they wish.

One-to-one (1:1) computing

While some schools have enough students with devices to employ a BYOD rule, many schools still have students with no access to devices at home. Enter 1:1 computing.

What is One-to-one computing?

One-to-one computing (or one device per student) refers to the practice of assigning every student in a school or educational institution their own dedicated computing device, such as a laptop, tablet, or Chromebook. This approach is designed to facilitate personalized learning, enhance student engagement, and integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum. Here's a more detailed breakdown:

  1. Personalized learning: With a dedicated device, students can progress at their own pace, access resources tailored to their individual needs, and engage in more personalized learning experiences.
  2. Anywhere, anytime learning: Students can access educational resources, complete assignments, and collaborate with peers outside of traditional classroom hours, fostering a more flexible learning environment.
  3. Digital literacy: As technology becomes increasingly integral to various professions and daily life, one-to-one computing helps students develop essential digital skills and familiarity with various software and online tools.
  4. Enhanced collaboration: Many modern educational devices come with collaboration tools and platforms that allow students to work together on projects, share resources, and communicate more effectively.
  5. Immediate feedback: Teachers can use software to provide real-time feedback on student work, conduct assessments, and adjust instruction based on individual student performance.
  6. Cost efficiency: Over time, digital resources and e-textbooks can prove to be more cost-effective than traditional printed materials, which may become outdated or worn out.
  7. Environmentally friendly: Reducing the reliance on paper and printed materials can have a positive environmental impact.

Implementing 1:1 computing is gaining traction around the globe. This has caused both approval and concern as both teachers and parents navigate the technological world.

Concerns with 1:1 computing

Some schools consider it a disadvantage to not be able to afford one-to-one computing and are concerned that their students won’t have the same level of education as wealthier schools. In multiple states, schools have even reported going into debt to pay for individual student devices. Some leaders in education argue that a 1:1 policy could further separate wealthier schools from low-income areas.

Parents also have concerns with individual device policies. It’s difficult for schools to successfully monitor the student’s devices and it requires targeted internet protection safeguards to keep students on track and away from harmful material.

However, even with all of the valid concerns, 1:1 policies are being adopted globally. With opportunities for increased technological learning, students can learn advanced subjects (coding, for example) from a very young age. One-to-one computing also allows for teachers to personalize lesson plans and homework assignments for each student. Plus, for schools that can afford it, giving each student their own device lessens inequalities between students because they will each have their own identical device.

The road ahead

Universities and schools must adapt to this new era, packed with personal devices and shifting challenges. Most schools no longer have lab assistants who keep software updated. The best method for keeping tech up-to-date is to teach each student to do it themselves on their devices. Students are learning faster than we think. Plus, they have access to guides, walk-through videos, and online classes.

If your school has access to one-on-one devices, teach students lessons on how to manage their devices instead of letting their devices manage them. Provide feedback from health professionals on ways to have a healthy relationship with their devices and how to put them away for some screen-free time.

Class tools are online; homework now lives in the cloud - this is just the way learning works now. As a result, administration challenges are shifting to things like authentication management, access control, and mobile device management. IT teams need to adapt to these issues and focus on delivering better experiences without compromising their or their student's data, or the device's security.


FAQ

What is the computer lab used for in schools?

The computer lab serves as a place where students can come to learn different technological applications, such as coding, virtual design or even excel spreadsheets. It can also serve as a place for students who don’t have personal devices to do homework, research, or work on other online assignments. 

What are the advantages of computer labs in schools?

Having a computer lab in schools can be advantageous for many reasons. For one, it serves as a space where all students can learn different technological applications, regardless of what devices they have access to at home. Having a dedicated space for computers also discourages the use of devices in other classrooms where they may be a distraction to learning.

What are the disadvantages of computer labs in schools?

There can be some disadvantages to having a computer lab in schools. When computer labs are used as a classroom to learn about technology, students may get distracted from the lesson and instead use the time for internet browsing, social networks, etc. Additionally, computer labs can be a big expense for schools, and there may not be enough computers for all of the students who need access to one.

Are computer labs in schools still important?

Computer labs in schools are becoming less important due to the rise of individual devices at home and 1:1 computing programs. However, computer labs are still vital for school districts that don’t provide students with their own devices because, while home devices are becoming more common, not every student may have access to a device to use at home. If schoolwork requires online access, computer labs are a necessity. 

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